If you are looking to fill a position as a civil servant, you might be required to take a civil service exam. These tests are conducted to examine a candidate’s skills for specific jobs — including government officials, police officers, firefighters, and public school teachers.
Although most agencies allow applicants to apply through different online portals, you are not able to take a civil service exam online. Thus, to be able to take the test, you must visit a designated testing center. The location/time of your exam will be given to you once your application has been reviewed.
Keep in mind that a civil service exam is the first step in a long process and that there is no singular civil service exam. Each test is specific to a job or a class of employment. Below we will share useful information, so you know what to expect.
Civil Service Job Announcements
Civil servant jobs are regularly posted on official websites. Applicants may apply online by submitting a resume and completing an occupational questionnaire. However, not everyone can apply to every civil service job announcement.
There are two main civil service job announcements:
“Continuous” job postings involve positions where agencies are continually hiring. Therefore, the exams for these positions are administered periodically and are open to all applicants (as long as they meet the minimum job requirements.)
Know that if you are taking a civil service exam offered on a continuous recruitment basis, this does not necessarily mean that there is a job currently open. But, chances are one will likely open up in the next few weeks.
Open to State Employees
“Open to State Employees” announcements are the least common kind of announcement. These generally involve positions that are only available to current employees of the state. Their goal is to allow employees to opt for a better job based on their test scores and experience.
Make sure you read the job description and requirements carefully before applying to a civil servant job. Usually, government, state, and local sites provide detailed information on the conditions — including whether or not you are required to take a civil service exam.
Types of Civil Service Exams
As mentioned before, there is no singular civil service exam. Hence, the test will depend on the position you are interested in filling. Nonetheless, whatever the job might be, note that there are two types of civil service tests: competitive and non-competitive exams.
The competitive test means that you will be evaluated in relation to other applicants. The non-competitive exam, on the other hand, will have a minimum ‘passing score.’ As a result, all those who pass the non-competitive test are eligible, and those who don’t reach the score, fail.
Civil Service Exam Scoring
If you are required to take a non-competitive civil service exam, you will need to meet a specific score. Generally, you must get at least an 80% mark to be eligible for the position. Nonetheless, each agency might have different requirements depending on the level of experience and knowledge needed for the post.
Beware that “failed” notices do not include a numeric score, meaning that if you do not pass, you will never know your score. In the event that you fail the test, there is a 90-day waiting period before you can retake it.
Civil Service Exam Formats
Depending on the job, you might be required to take one or more civil service exams. Below a list of the most common exam formats you may encounter:
Oral and Essay Exams
These exams evaluate your capacity to synthesize ideas and answers to critical thinking questions. They might require you to appear in front of a panel of experts or decision committee.
Performance & Job Simulation Exams
These examinations test skills and competencies that are directly related to the nature of the job you are soliciting. For administrative positions, this might mean a typing proficiency examination. But, for an applicant applying to the fire department or police department, this could translate into a physical test to assess if you can handle the actual physical demands of the job. These physical evaluations may vary, ranging from calisthenics assessments and CPR to obstacle courses.
Like many other exams you might have taken, such as the GRE, SAT, or GMAT, many civil service tests include multiple-choice questions. These are usually computer-based and scored by the State.
Moreover, these types of exams are customized to fit the position’s requirements, skills, and related knowledge required to perform the job.
Note that there are other formats available. Thus, if you want to be prepared, make sure you gather all the information available regarding the requirements needed for the position you are applying to.
Preparing for a Civil Service Exam
The best way to prepare for a civil service exam is by studying smarter, not harder. Hence, to help you overcome nervousness, and build up the confidence, you need to pass your test, take a look at the following tips:
Take practice tests
Practice tests are a great way of knowing what to expect, so they are no surprises on the day of the actual exam. There are many free questionnaires you can download online. Plus, most bookstores carry civil service exam preparation kits.
Spend more time on your weakest area
You should always dedicate more time to the areas you feel less comfortable with. For instance, if you are good at reading comprehension, do not waste valuable review time. Instead, take note of the sections you scored poorly during the practice tests and brush up on those concepts.
Read, don’t memorize
Reading, not memorizing, questions will go a long way. Why? Simple. The questions and answers in civil service exam reviews and practice tests are never the same ones that appear in the actual exam.
Furthermore, there is no “official guide” to civil service exams. Thus, instead of memorizing questions and answers, use them to stimulate your knowledge, master test-taking skills, and learn to manage your time correctly.
Develop a studying schedule — and stick to it!
Unlike licensure board exams, you do not need to spend endless hours every day to review for the civil service exam. A few hours every day for a whole month will suffix. The key here is time management and creating a study plan you can easily follow.
Hence, start by setting aside one week for each subject area (e.g., numerical ability, verbal ability, reading comprehension). Then set two hours a day to work on your practice tests or review the material. Rest assured that if you stick to your plan, you will be able to ace the exam!
Do civil servants need to study math? Read this article to find out: https://civilservicehq.com/firefighter-math-test-practice-7-tips-and-tricks/
Prepare your mind and body as you would for any other test
It may seem obvious, but you should prepare to take the civil exam test as you would for any other licensure evaluation. However, bear in mind that the test is relatively long. Usually, the exam will run from two and a half hours to 3 hours.
• Get an adequate amount of sleep the night before
• Avoid eating food that might upset your stomach
• Arrive early on the day of the exam to have plenty of time to spare in case something goes wrong.
• Bring all the necessary documentation to the testing center (e.g., valid ID, registration)
• Bring snacks and water
• Keep a positive attitude
• Try not to overthink your answers
There you have it! A complete guide that leaves no stone unturned regarding the civil service examination. Now it is up to you to prepare and do everything you can to land that civil servant position.
What are examples of civil service jobs?
The term ‘civil’ encompasses a wide range of career opportunities at a federal, state, and local level. Almost every occupation can be thought of in civil service terms— from the President of the United States to a middle school teacher.
Below a list of some of the most popular civil service jobs:
- Public School Teacher
- Police Officer
- Social Worker
- Military Personnel
- Postal Worker
- Civil Engineer
- Intelligence Analyst
- Administrative Assistant
- Registered Nurse
- TSA Officer
How do you get a civil service job?
Civil service employees have a direct impact on the country’s welfare in terms of finance, education, law enforcement, and information. These jobs are very competitive as they usually come with a plethora of benefits. Thus, getting a civil service job is not as easy as it may seem.
If you wish to become a civil servant, start by following these steps:
- Look for available positions posted on official websites
- Research the requirements of the job you are interested in filling
- Complete a civil service application for employment
- Sign up for any required testing
- Pass the civil service exam and any other tests needed
- Wait for a job interview
To learn how to best prepare and study for your civil servant exam click here!
Interested to learn more about the civil service? Check out our free guide here: https://civilservicehq.com/
Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun and I’m so grateful that you’re here.
Civil servants are some of the hardest working, most generous people I know. I have been passionate about all types of civil service career paths for years now and enjoy sharing everything I continue to learn about them.
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Our mission is to empower you with information to help you decide which civil servant career path is best for you and to provide you with the tools needed to increase your chance of success in that career path.